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Vermonter at Large

Take elections seriously: are you kidding me?

Oct. 14, 2010

By Mal Boright

It is far past time for we, the voters (i.e. the bosses), to not just request but to demand that people running for elective office start behaving as adults who have some respect for the process, the offices they seek and, most of all, the people they say they wish to serve.

Instead, we watch the outrageous campaign shenanigans both nationally and here in Vermont, complain a little and then just shrug (politicians will be politicians, etc.) and move on to other matters in our busy lives.

Then, on Election Day, many of us hold our noses while voting.

The situation in Washington may be too far gone to be saved without serious reform. Where that would come from remains a mystery. Party politics, blatant careerism by the elected, gerrymandering and the powerful, stench-ridden influence of money have all made Congress a sink hole for the well-intentioned, problem-solving, low-ego individuals many prefer to be their representatives in the nation’s capital.

Not much will change until the money that gushes in and out of political campaigns is brought under control. But those who profit from the system (and let us count the ways) are not about to be all fired up to change it.

Here in Vermont we have the spectacle of two major party candidates for governor abandoning the high road — it did not take long — to throw mud pies at each other through the absolutely despicable method of the 30-second radio and television commercial.

Point of order here. The two contestants, at the beginning of their campaigns, each had a piece of baggage to overcome, which need not have been major obstacles.

Republican Brian Dubie has the problem that accompanies many GOP candidates these days. That being, is there an ideologue-like Rush (“I hope Obama fails”) Limbaugh inside just raging to get out?

Democrat Peter Shumlin, president of the Vermont Senate, has been considered by some, rightly or wrongly, as a legislative slickster and greaser in the favors game that goes on under all capitol domes.

So instead of reassuring voters that the business of the people would come first and each is not a tool of his national party apparatus, both have unloaded negative campaign advertising. Yes, this does shift attention away from perceived baggage.

No doubt, each has used out-of-state money and political organizations to play gotcha through the 30-second radio and television commercial route. In 30 seconds, there is just time enough to unleash the mud. There is no time for a serious discussion of a serious topic.

There is time enough, however, for the thinking public to wonder what kind of dupes do these candidates think voters are? Unfortunately, in many jurisdictions negative campaign advertising is thought to work. Thus our Vermont candidates will leave no dirty stone un-thrown.

Dubie used a Republican Governors Association commercial to unload a heap of disinformation on a Shumlin idea — not new, by the way — to save the state money by releasing non-violent offenders from prison to alternative programs.

It is always alleged that the Governors Association acts independently of in-state campaigns. Well, okay then. But Dubie does not appear to be objecting much or threatening to campaign as an independent if the association keeps on slinging the half-truths, innuendo and misrepresentations.

And, oh yes, what business is it of the GOP governors who we Vermonters elect? Butt out, boys and girls, and stop trying to manipulate our election.

Shumlin is quiet about a commercial from his apparent supporters that would have Dubie waiting for a mushroom cloud over Vernon before he would speak ill of the Vermont Yankee nuclear power plant.

That is another issue that requires research and careful consideration as to how state government responds. In both instances, thoughtful approaches have been hijacked by the urge to make political hash.

With bags of outside money flowing into the gubernatorial campaigns, we also once again observe the accuracy of the Russian proverb: “When money speaks, truth is silent.”

Or, as Henry David Thoreau once put it, “The more money, the less virtue.”

The two major political parties may be instrumental in providing candidates with financial wherewithal to run their campaigns, but both Democrat and Republican machines are abject failures in encouraging clean electioneering. The lust for power is just too enticing. Now it is 365-day, 24-7 political warfare, with the needs of the nation and state relegated to the rear. Capitol Hill in Washington is the example. Slowly but surely that nefarious, all-out struggle is being felt here, due in large part to the national thrust of local elections such as our gubernatorial race.

There has, however, been one bright moment in this otherwise drab election season.

GOP lieutenant governor candidate Washington County Sen. Phil Scott provided it. During a recent radio interview, Scott pointed out that one of his best friends in the statehouse is (gasp!) Democratic Sen. Dick Mazza.

Scott went on to say that some fellow GOP members suggested that such a cross-party lines friendship is not a good thing.

“I said he has been my friend before the election and will be during the election and after the election. And I will be the same person no matter how the election turns out that I am now,” Scott vowed.

That is the kind of campaign statement that illuminates rather than diminishes.

So rare.

Williston resident Mal Boright has been an editor, columnist and reporter for several Vermont newspapers. He covers local sports as a correspondent for the Williston Observer and The Charlotte Citizen.